Black Representation in ‘Doctor Who’ – Modern Era, Modern Black Characters

by Tai Gooden

The recent run of companion, Bill, a working class Black lesbian, on Doctor Who has proven the show can be more inclusive of characters of difference. However, Bill Potts’ success was an extension of her two Black predecessors – Mickey Smith and Martha Jones. Both characters were introduced in the show’s modern era with groundbreaking appearances. When Doctor Who returned to television in 2005 after an extended hiatus, the series was placed in the hands of showrunner Russell T Davies, a Doctor Who novelist and the producer of popular British TV show Queer as Folk willing to take the show in a new direction as a gay man who wrote stories that pushed boundaries.

Before Bill: Mickey Smith’s Historic Character Arc

Established British white actor Christopher Eccleston took on the role of the Ninth Doctor and was paired with British white pop star Billie Piper as companion Rose Tyler. Rose was a teenage clothing store employee who desperately wanted to escape the daily grind. The modern era of the show shifted the role of the companion by making them a focal point in the series. Characters now had more of a backstory and episodes would occasionally feature their loved ones and friends. It was an interesting spin because it gave audiences a chance to see what it is like to be associated with a companion and the full ramifications of what happens to a companion’s relationships when they choose to travel in the TARDIS.

Rose’s boyfriend Mickey Smith, a young Black mechanic, was introduced in her eponymous episode. Prior to The Doctor’s arrival, the couple seemed to be happy as they are shown being affectionate and playful toward each other. However, he was revealed to be a buffoonish and cowardly character – a foil to the dashing, clever Doctor who intrigued Rose. Mickey was suspicious of The Doctor and Rose’s interest in him and was soon kidnapped by the villainous Autons.

The Doctor was equally interested in Rose and dismissive toward Mickey’s supposed death after his plastic clone’s head melted on the TARDIS console. He referred to him as some stupid kid, causing a spat with Rose which was quickly cleared up by her curiosity about his spaceship. She almost forgot about her boyfriend’s death and goes right into running hand in hand with The Doctor. When the real Mickey was found underground with the Autons and Nestene Consciousness, The Doctor rolled his eyes and walked past him as though he didn’t exist despite Mickey being understandably frightened by his ordeal. It would be the first of many times that Mickey was ignored and looked at with pity or disdain.

To Mickey’s credit, competing with a humanoid alien man who takes the phrase “well-traveled” to another level while facing an imminent alien threat put him at a major disadvantage. But, there was a thin line between depicting Mickey as a man who was frightened by his first encounter with aliens and a guy who clung onto Rose’s legs in a childlike fashion like she was his savior. The writers even had Mickey tripping and falling out of the TARDIS as he pointed at The Doctor and called him a thing. At the time, it was not clear if the show would address Mickey’s race or if he would make another appearance, but even if his Blackness were just a result of colorblind casting, it still wasn’t a positive depiction for a Black male supporting role. A Black or POC writer would have served well in helping to shape this character by steering clear of what could be perceived as a negative stereotype because he is Black.

Mickey did not share Rose’s wanderlust or her ease of adapting to the existence of alien life, both of which are understandable and realistic elements of his character which helped push her narrative. He told her to abandon The Doctor when he was being held hostage by the Autons and asked Rose to not travel with him when The Doctor extended the coveted companion offer. Rose was going to stay but she soon changed her mind, kissed Mickey, told him thanks for nothing, and ran off with a strange man in a disappearing blue police box. From Rose’s perspective, it wasn’t a bad choice to take a chance of a lifetime, so fans forgave her dismissal of Mickey.

Rose’s first couple of adventures with The Doctor showed her having second thoughts about her impulsive decision. She was also seen calling her mother and checking in, yet this same affection wasn’t extended toward Mickey. Her guilty feelings for abandoning him on the street could have played a role in her not calling him, but it seemed like she forgot his existence.  Mickey’s life back on Earth is unseen until “Aliens of London” when Rose returns with The Doctor a year later. During Rose’s absence, her mother Jackie accused him of murdering Rose, which resulted in him being questioned by police several times. This situation is believable for the character, especially since he is a Black man and his White girlfriend is missing after she was last seen with him. Mickey became a social pariah in their neighborhood and was filled with anxiety as he waited to hear the groan of the TARDIS. He also began to research The Doctor and discovered his dangerous past. And, he still falls into the buffoon category with him running toward the TARDIS as it dematerializes and running into a wall. It was written with comedic relief in mind, but the scene had the opposite effect because of how Black men have been historically portrayed as clownish characters.

Despite his anguish, Mickey accepted Rose’s half-assed apology and The Doctor’s insults (including calling him by the wrong name) because he was still in love with his girlfriend.  He somewhat redeemed himself and became the unsung hero in the following episode “World War Three.” Mickey used his tech skills to command a harpoon missile to strike 10 Downing Street and kill the Slitheen. Mickey’s valuable skill as a computer hacker and his increased bravery around aliens led to an offer by the Ninth Doctor to travel in the TARDIS. However, Mickey declined and said he wasn’t ready to make the leap, which ended up being a mistake for the character. At this point, Rose and The Doctor hadn’t developed a romantic attachment and she was open to him coming along for adventures. Even if he was feeling a bit apprehensive, it would have been great to have seen an off-Earth adventure for Mickey and watch him fall in love with the stars. But, Mickey made his choice and asked The Doctor to keep the conversation a secret. He didn’t want to seem weak to Rose and she even questioned why The Doctor didn’t take Mickey along for an adventure. Nine said he had “made his decision” and Rose took off again.

Mickey was later seen in the season in “Boom Town” when Rose and Nine returned with a third wheel in the form of the handsome Captain Jack Harkness. This episode showed Mickey at a crossroads between wanting to still have a romantic relationship with Rose and his efforts to move on and date other people. By this time, Rose had become an experienced TARDIS traveler and cemented a relationship with The Doctor. Mickey admitted to dating a mutual acquaintance, which caused a fight between the pair. For the first time, he unleashed his deepest feelings and told Rose it was unfair for her to expect him to wait for her forever. He resented The Doctor for messing up their relationship and thought she would always choose The Doctor over him. Chaos ensued and Rose ran back towards the TARDIS, deserting Mickey again and causing him to walk away when she came back to search for him.

This episode featured a lot of hits and misses in terms of Mickey’s development. He was starting to accept the demise of his romantic relationship with Rose despite his lingering feelings. However, the episode went right back to making him the butt of all jokes by Rose, The Doctor, and Jack as he joined them on a mission. He was even seen tripping in a hallway and getting his foot caught in a bucket with toilet tissue trailing behind him, which was a step backwards toward his clumsy introduction. His resourcefulness in previous appearances was a small glimmer of hope but his development was otherwise stagnant, which would have hinted at continued appearances to progress his character if he was a primary protagonist. But, because he was a supporting character for Rose, viewers thought the demise of his relationship with Rose would be the end of his time on the show.

By this point in the series, it is clear that Mickey has been written through a colorblind lens. There hadn’t been any references to his race in any of his appearances, however, his limited screen time and all of his adventures taking place within their neighborhood in London hadn’t given much opportunity to discuss his race. Most of his interactions were with the Tyler family and The Doctor, so it was hard to get a grasp of who Mickey was outside of his relationship with Rose. Mickey’s skills as a computer whiz were largely overshadowed by the writer’s need to make him a clown so Rose and The Doctor, both White characters, would look superior to him. It was also a move to make Rose not want to stay, but this could have been accomplished simply through Mickey’s satisfaction with living a “normal” life.

The ever-faithful Mickey Smith appeared in the two-part season one finale (“Bad Wolf”, “The Parting of Ways”) when Rose was sent back to Earth with the TARDIS. Rose was desperate to get back to The Doctor and said being with him is a “better” life, thereby stabbing Mickey in the feels. However, he wanted her to be happy so he helped her unlock the heart of the TARDIS and watched her vanish to go back to The Doctor, unsure if she would return alive again.

The 2005 Christmas special reunited Mickey with Rose and a newly regenerated Tenth Doctor (actor David Tennant) as he fought an alien Christmas tree and discouraged Rose from trying to play Doctor with the Sycorax. His initial encounter with Ten was friendly despite Rose’s heart-emoji eyes for the younger and handsome version of The Doctor. She quickly accepted another trip in the TARDIS and Mickey was still hoping she would stay – a tired storyline between the two. Meanwhile, Rose’s mother had less screen time and exposure to The Doctor, yet she was allowed to progress as a character. Jackie’s initial distrust of The Doctor had faded and she accepted her daughter’s decision to travel, even if it was hard for her to be left behind.

However, Mickey’s character arc began to take an interesting turn in “School Reunion” when he met Classic era companion Sarah Jane Smith. After calling Rose home to a suspicious school, the trio ran into The Doctor’s old friend and Rose discovered that she was far from the first companion to travel with The Doctor. For the first time, she questioned her position in his life when she saw Ten with Sarah Jane. Mickey relished in the moment and watched Rose deal with the dilemma of playing second fiddle. During a conversation with Sarah Jane, she asked him a defining question – “What is your role within this group?” Mickey wanted to lie and think he is important to them, but he knew he was the “tin dog.” The Doctor and Rose participated in treating him poorly by leaving him out of tasks/conversations and expecting him to sit and wait while they pursued the action. In this episode, they literally treated him like the tin dog by telling him to stay in Sarah Jane’s car with K9 – the tin robot dog who once traveled with Sarah Jane and The Doctor. One of the school’s children, Kenny, signaled to Mickey for help and he broke into the school with the car to save the students. From that point forward, Mickey was determined to prove he was a valuable asset and asked to join the TARDIS team. Rose did not want him there, but she begrudgingly accepted him because of Sarah Jane’s insistence. The decision to have Sarah Jane spark change in Mickey as a brilliant move because she is arguably the greatest companion in the history of the show.

Mickey’s first TARDIS trip, “Girl in the Fireplace,” was a borderline companion-lite story because it focused more on the relationship The Doctor formed with Madame de Pompadour. Ten was emotionally cold to both Mickey and Rose in this episode as he started a romance with Madame de Pompadour, eventually jumping through a one way glass to save her. He was okay with leaving Rose and Mickey stranded on an abandoned spaceship for the rest of time, yet Rose quickly forgave him when he figured out a way to get back to them. While “Girl in the Fireplace” was a phenomenal story, Mickey’s first time in the TARDIS should have revolved around him figuring out the rules of time travel and starting to discover his role in the group. Instead it was another chance to take jabs at him, particularly when The Doctor likened him keeping a horse to Rose keeping Mickey. While it may have seemed like a clever joke to the writers, it was offensive and dehumanizing to compare him to a pet that Rose decided to take with her on an adventure. Mickey had repeatedly proven himself to be a competent and valuable asset, so their jokes are nothing more than a way to remind Mickey that he is a third wheel and the lesser companion. Instances like these could have been largely avoided with the inclusion of Black writers, who would have been sensitive to this type of dialogue.

Mickey’s big break came in “Age of Steel/Rise of the Cybermen” when the trio crash landed on a parallel Earth. The story started out with Mickey holding down a button in the TARDIS for 29 minutes, only to discover The Doctor and Rose forgot about him in the midst of their conversation. Rose discovered that her deceased father was still alive on this planet and she was determined to find him. Mickey was also determined to explore this alternate version of Earth on his own in search of his grandmother, who raised him and was deceased on regular Earth. The Doctor stood in between them and asked them both to stay with Mickey telling him to run after Rose because he was just a “spare part” to group. The Doctor predictably ran after Rose and they began to talk about Mickey’s childhood. Ten was surprised to learn about Mickey’s grandmother’s death and Rose admitted that they take him for granted. Mickey found his grandmother and ended up meeting the parallel version of himself, Ricky, who was a leader in a resistance group. Ricky died in a Cyberman attack during “Rise of the Cybermen” and Mickey was blamed for his death. Ricky’s friend Jake berated him and told him was “nothing” in front of Rose and The Doctor, yet neither one of them defended him. Ricky’s crew worked with The Doctor, Rose, and Rose’s parallel father Pete Tyler to come up with a plan to destroy the Cyberman factory. The Doctor began to assign jobs to different people, including Ricky’s group, but he left Mickey out of the attack plans. Mickey pushed back and insisted on helping Ricky’s friend Jake take down a zeppelin. Jake once again lashed out at Mickey, calling him an idiot. Mickey stresses that he is not an idiot and his days of being the tin dog are over. The Doctor’s reaction to Mickey is one of pride at him finally finding his way as a companion, but Rose didn’t seem to be impressed at all. She does tell him to be careful and that he “better” come back after the fight was over. As the group bidded their farewells, Mickey watched as Rose and The Doctor lovingly embraced each other.

A new version of Mickey shined through as he took on the spirit of Ricky and used his computer skills to get the code to The Doctor so he could shut down the computer programs. His actions earned the respect of Jake and showed the positive influence of The Doctor. However, he realized nothing he could do would ever change the bond between Rose and The Doctor, so he decided to stay on parallel Earth and help Jake liberate other countries. He also wanted to take care of his grandmother. It was an opportunity for him to start over and pursue a new life on a different planet. Like Bill Potts, Mickey did not have many close ties to anyone on regular Earth outside of Rose’s mom. Rose began to cry and asked what would happen if she needed him. Mickey told her that she doesn’t need him because of her relationship with The Doctor and that they had something once but it was over now. The Doctor tells him to get out there and stop the other Cyberman factories. Rose is distraught because they cannot return to a parallel world but Mickey is calm and empowered as he rode off with Jake.

Although it was sad to see Mickey go as soon as his character started hitting a heroic stride, it made sense for a couple of reasons. First, Mickey was a dynamic (i.e. changing) character who had discovered his true direction in life so it was naturally time for him to go on that journey. His time with The Doctor was short, but he had completed his main character development arc. Mickey staying in the TARDIS would have continued the same storyline of Rose/Ten being cliquish and disrespectful. The old phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” rings true with Rose’s reaction to Mickey leaving because she did not fully value his contributions to her adventures with The Doctor. Rose also realized how he had remained a true friend to her despite watching her fall for another man.

His limited TARDIS travels never put him in a situation where his Blackness would have been an issue and he was never placed in a position where his authority would be questioned because of his race, but it would have been interesting to explore this in at least one episode. Or, Mickey could have been shown interacting with other Black or POC characters outside of his parallel self. Most of his interactions were with Rose, The Doctor, her family or other non-POC characters closely associated with them. But, since none of this took place,  the continued trend of not acknowledging his race wasn’t too detrimental to the storyline once his character progressed past the clumsy, jealous boyfriend phase.

Mickey made a surprise reappearance in season 2 finale episodes “Army of Ghosts” and “Doomsday.” He found his way back to Earth’s Torchwood headquarters to combat against the Dalek and Cyberman invasions. He was bold and fearless as they faced an enemy coming out of a mysterious sphere, which impressed Rose. It was clear that Mickey had grown emotionally and mentally while traveling with Jake and he was no longer in love with Rose. The man who was once clumsy and terrified of all aliens made jokes in the face of a Dalek/Cyberman standoff. He even led the charge of Jake and a new set of friends who came over and took out Cybermen. Rose even admits that he is the bravest human she has ever met. The Doctor wanted Rose to go to the parallel world to be safe when he opened the void, but she refused and Jackie begged Mickey to reason with Pete about letting Rose go back to Earth. Mickey said nothing and refused to interfere with Rose’s choice.  In the end, he returned to parallel Earth along with Jackie, who united with the parallel version of Pete Tyler. Despite her insistence on staying with The Doctor forever and abandoning her mother, Rose gets sucked into the void and rescued by Pete, but stuck on parallel Earth. She cries profusely in front of Mickey, who has a stoic reaction.

Mickey made one last cameo in season four episode “Journey’s End” along with all of the Tenth Doctor companions in a fight against Davros and the Daleks. He reunited with Sarah Jane Smith and had an increased knowledge of technology. He allowed himself to be captured along with most of the other Tenth Doctor companions until the gang was saved by a metacrisis Doctor and a Time Lord Donna. Mickey did not do much in this episode, but it was a nice way to tie in his story with all of the other companions and a chance for The Doctor to say goodbye before he continued his travels alone.  In the end, he thanked the Doctor for helping him become the man he was meant to be and decided to not return to parallel Earth, saying that his grandmother there has died and Rose was not a reason for him to stay. He left the TARDIS with Captain Jack Harkness and Martha Jones, once again having a fresh start on Earth. After the events of Doomsday, Rose Tyler was marked as dead on Earth and viewers can assume that Mickey was given the same fate, so he was truly given a chance to start a new life.

Mickey’s journey from a young, clumsy teenager trying to prove his worth while living in Rose’s shadow to a valiant man who discovered his own worth is one of the greatest redemptive character arcs in the modern era of the show. The character’s progress was often clunky and took entirely too long to progress past the jealous boyfriend trope, but Mickey showed how the show could take a character whom no one liked initially and turn him into a full-fledged hero. It was a promising start to what the show could do with a companion of color and opened the door for a non-White person to be a long-term, primary TARDIS traveler.

The Woman Who Walked The Earth: Dr. Martha Jones

After Rose and Ten were separated in the Doomsday battle, The Doctor soon found himself with a new companion named Martha Jones. While many consider Mickey to be the first Black companion, Martha Jones was the first Black person to travel for an extended time with The Doctor as the main companion. Martha was starkly different from Rose Tyler – a stylish, upper middle class woman who was studying to become a doctor in her own right. Her parents had a contentious relationship and her siblings depended on her for guidance and a listening ear. Her life was turned upside down in “Smith and Jones” when her residency hospital was abruptly transferred to the moon by the Judoon – a space police force. Like Rose, Martha was immediately intrigued by the Tenth Doctor and romantically attracted to him. In this episode, The Doctor appeared to be healing from his traumatic loss of Rose and shared an immediate spark with Martha. She quickly proved herself to be curious, intelligent, and brave in the face of danger – all the tenets of a good companion. Martha even gave her last breath to save The Doctor and he thanked her by offering a single trip in the TARDIS.

Unlike Mickey, Martha made an impressive debut as the next companion. For many Black fans and other viewers who welcomed diversity in the show, it was a chance to see how a Black woman would react to traveling in the TARDIS. However, some new fans of the show were attached to Rose and they weren’t ready to see her replaced. For those fans, their acceptance of Martha would heavily rely on The Doctor embracing her and if their chemistry would continue to blossom. Unfortunately, the writers made an egregious choice to resurface The Doctor’s love hangover for Rose and allow it to cast a shadow over the majority of Martha’s run. And, they focused on Martha’s unrequited love for The Doctor, which made her seem similar to Mickey who was rejected by Rose for The Doctor. So, the first two major Black characters in the modern series both had to deal with feelings of inadequacy and emotional anguish because of The Doctor’s relationship with Rose Tyler. The creative minds behind the scenes may have viewed this as shifting the show to modern television tastes that thrive off of romantic melodrama, but it was insensitive toward both Black characters, especially with Rose being put on a pedestal as a White woman. Historically, The Doctor was used to losing companions and quickly moving forward without wallowing in the past. It was strange to see this hero fall in love with a companion and continue to mourn over her loss after a new person was brought onboard. Martha was severely underappreciated and mistreated because she was not her blond White predecessor – a problematic aspect of her run which was overlooked by the show’s non-POC writers.

In Martha’s first full adventure, “Shakespearean Code,” it was evident that the show writers would take her Blackness into consideration when she expressed fear of being carted off into slavery. Instead of recognizing her legitimate concern, the Tenth Doctor told her to simply swan around like she owns the place. The Doctor is an alien but he is a well-traveled man who spends a lot of time on Earth, so his flippant response to racism against Black people is concerning. Even though he knows he’s not human, the people around him see him as a White male – something which has served him well as a person who has to take an authoritative position in life threatening situations. If he looked like Martha, then he wouldn’t be able to walk into the 1600s and get a crowd of strangers to look to him as a leader.  “Shakespearean Code” also showed Ten’s continued longing for Rose. While he laid in bed across from Martha and mused about a plan, he looked at Martha and said he wished Rose was there because she would say the right thing. He claimed that Martha was a “novice” so she wouldn’t be helpful in this situation. While Rose was certainly a capable person, Martha had proved herself to be just as resourceful, if not more because of her skill as a trained medical professional. And, she had saved The Doctor with her last breath. Ten told her she would be a one-trip companion, but that didn’t give him the right to dismiss her ability to be an asset during her short travels.

The episode also focused heavily on Shakespeare’s sexual attraction to Martha Jones. She became the inspiration for his Sonnet 18 poem and he made several advances toward her during the episode. When he meets her, he immediately comments on her “unusual” clothing and how it fits her body tightly. The interactions stepped over the line of admiration of Martha’s beauty and teetered further toward a fetish for her as a Black woman with several references to her skin tone by calling her a blackamoor and his dark lady. Martha seemed flattered because it was Shakespeare, but she also was uncomfortable when he called her a blackamoor. This episode was written by Gareth Roberts, who is a solid Doctor Who writer with episodes like “The Lodger” and fan-favorite “The Unicorn and the Wasp” but he didn’t think the supposed flirtation between Shakespeare and Martha through a more sensitive lens. This episode is a prime example of how Doctor Who’s inexplicable lack of POC creatives behind the scenes are needed to approach episodes where the content matter is heavily centered on a non-White character. Black writers and/or sensitivity readers would have been needed to check the dialogue toward Martha as well as The Doctor’s reactions to her concerns.

Ten’s comparisons of Martha to Rose continued in “Gridlock,” where the pair found themselves in New New York. He admitted that he took Rose there before and once again made Martha feel like she was just occupying Rose’s space. Previous companions in the Classic series were never made to feel like they were replacements in the TARDIS. Rose Tyler herself didn’t realize she wasn’t the only person to travel with The Doctor until Sarah Jane Smith. However, this episode separated the pair and was a shining point for Martha, who showed her valor and deductive skills as she kept her cool after being taken by underground kidnappers. At the end, The Doctor opened up to Martha as he tells her about being the last Time Lord, Gallifrey, and the Time War.

Martha’s inquisitive nature was shown in her next adventure, “Dalek in Manhattan” when they ended up in a makeshift neighborhood looming in the shadows of a not yet completed Empire State Building. She was once again placed in the past (1930) and started off by quizzing Sullivan, a Black man who was in charge about why they were there. The man told them that the neighborhood was filled with people from different career paths and racial backgrounds, but they all lived together because they had one thing in common – hunger and homelessness. It was interesting commentary of the social ills of the time. When a former foreman turned rich man comes to the shantytown to offer a dollar a day, Sullivan and a young man named Frank go with Ten and Martha as they investigate. As they uncover why men are being tuned into pig slaves for the Daleks, Martha asks as many questions as The Doctor himself. Martha’s relationship building with minor characters was the strongest element of the episode.

After a Dalek attack on the village, The Doctor agreed to go with the Daleks and instructed Martha to stay behind and take care of hurt people because it was what she did best. He also left her with his psychic paper but no instructions, trusting that she would figure out how to make it work. She uses her deductive skills and the help of Tallulah, a showgirl whose lover was turned into a pig creature, and Frank to discover how to find The Doctor. Martha had a chance to have her own companions and impressed Tallulah with her status as a traveling doctor. She deduces where the Daleks are hiding their Dalekanium and races to tell The Doctor. While chatting with Tallulah, she admits that when The Doctor looks at her she feels like he’s just remembering Rose Tyler. Martha also finds a way to fight the pig slaves via electrocution, although she feels sad about killing them. This was Martha’s first chance to play “Doctor” with her own set of companions and she proved her worth by deducing the Daleks plan. The Doctor seems to have a healthy respect for Martha and trusts her capability to take care of herself in dire situations.

Martha returned back home for the first and apparently the last time as The Doctor declared she had completed her trip in the TARDIS. Martha was disappointed yet thankful for the chance to have traveled with him. However, Martha’s sister had a strange boss named Doctor Lazarus who claimed he could reverse aging and The Doctor stayed out of curiosity, leading to their first adventure in modern London. In this episode, Martha’s mother is much like Rose’s mom in the beginning of her travels and had a strong distrust of The Doctor. Martha had to make a choice to either support the Doctor or listen to her mother and get out of danger. She took the latter option and teamed up with her sister to defeat Dr. Lazarus. Her sister Tish proved to be an equally valiant and brilliant asset, however, there was no offer extended to her to travel with The Doctor like he did with Mickey Smith. Martha’s relationship with The Doctor also went through a transition as she proved her loyalty to him as a companion. At the end of “The Lazarus Experiment,” The Doctor offered Martha another trip in the TARDIS and she told him she did not just want to be a passenger. He replied and said Martha was never just a random passenger and gives her a key to the TARDIS, which boosts Martha’s hopes of The Doctor no longer placing her in Rose’s shadow. It was surprising change of heart for The Doctor, who was ready to give her the boot at the beginning of the episode.

“Human Nature/Family of Blood” pushed Martha to her emotional and mental limits when The Doctor encased his essence in a fob watch and asked her to guard over it to protect it from the family of blood. This decision showed his incredible faith and trust in Martha as his companion. They landed on Earth in 1913 – another time period which was unfavorable for Martha. It seemed to be a pattern for the Tenth Doctor to continuously end up in past time periods with his Black companion. He took on a position at a boys school as a teacher named John Smith and she became a maid – both customary job choices for the time period. Martha carefully followed The Doctor’s instructions, but she didn’t plan on seeing him fall in love with a fellow teacher named Joan – a White woman. Joan was often rude to Martha and even dismissed the idea that she could be studying to be a doctor because of her social status and skin color. Martha shot back a reply and quickly named all the bones in her hand to embarrass Joan. Martha’s mistreatment spanned through the entire school as her intelligence was insulted and she was harassed by the arrogant school boys.The Doctor’s romance with Joan was mainly a plot device to make him have doubts about wanting to become a lonely Time Lord again when the time arose. But, it was yet again another instance where Martha felt second best and hurt by his actions. She was trying to protect him and follow his instructions, but Martha was at a loss for how to deal with his romance.

He was also verbally nasty to her, even when she was desperately trying to convince him why both she and the universe needed The Doctor to return. After he, Martha, and Joan escaped the school and went to an abandoned house, Joan asked Martha what could be done to help the situation. Martha was honest and said nothing could be done without the fob watch, which still held The Doctor’s essence. He lashed out at her and asked what exactly she does for him. She looked at him with a stoic face and said he needed her because he was lonely. John Smith was angry at Martha for allowing him to fall in love with Joan and accused Martha of being responsible for “executing” him to save The Doctor. It was a heavy and unfair burden to place on Martha when she was only following The Doctor’s orders. She admits that The Doctor is everything to her and he barely acknowledges her presence but she loves him to bits. Martha was able to keep her cool and compose her emotions, but her eyes told a story of sadness. After Martha and Joan convinced him to return as The Doctor, he saved the day and tried to get Joan to travel with him, but she refused and accused him for choosing her time period as a hiding place. He continued to beg her to come and even said he could be capable of starting a relationship with her. The Doctor noted that it would be the two of them – which hints at him possibly discarding Martha once again if Joan had accepted his offer. The thought of him sending Martha home so he could travel with Joan shows how his relationship with Martha is unbalanced. She has risked her life for him yet he views her as easily replaceable.

The story is a well-written, loose adaptation of the Human Nature novel by Paul Cornell, but it was not written with a Black companion in mind. If The Doctor wanted to hide from the family of blood and Martha, who has already expressed discomfort at being in the past because of her Blackness, would be charged with holding on the fob watch and eventually helping The Doctor restore himself, 1913 seems like an awful place to put her in this predicament. It may have been seen as another opportunity to explore the racism she would encounter and add an additional challenge to an already difficult situation. But, with Black women in TV/film/books constantly being stretched to the max emotionally to show how well they can endure tough circumstances, it feels like overkill. Again, exploring racism toward a non-White companion doesn’t mean they have to be taken back to the past. This combined with the presence of Joan made this a draining two parter for Martha, yet she continued traveling with The Doctor. To his credit, he did thank Martha for taking care of him.

“Utopia” finds The Doctor and Jack Harkness – another die hard Rose fan – reunited. Jack latched onto the TARDIS after he saw it dematerializing at the Cardiff Rift where he had a previous adventure with Rose and Mickey. The TARDIS tried to shake Jack and it transported them to the end of the universe. Jack appeared to be dead, but he was soon revived and began to flirt with Martha. After the events of “Doomsday,” Rose was on the dead person’s list so he asked The Doctor if she was really okay and he confirmed it. This mention of Rose made sense because Jack and Rose had a friendship. However, the casual mention of her being blond girl and Martha’s reply about not being shocked is telling when it comes to how White women like Rose are placed on a pedestal. The Doctor did not harp on Rose and continued on his adventure with Martha, showing signs of him moving on and accepting Martha. Jack and Martha established a connection that would spill over into Martha’s life long after she was done traveling with The Doctor. Martha would eventually team up with Jack’s Torchwood organization several times as an expert in the medical field and extraterrestrial happenings. The decision by Russell T Davies to bring Martha over into the Torchwood series was a brilliant move and a great opportunity for fans of the Whoniverse to get more of Martha Jones.

Martha’s last story arc as a full time companion was perhaps the most disturbing one during her time as a companion. In “The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords,” the Doctor’s arch nemesis The Master has risen to power disguised as Prime Minister Harold Saxon. He made The Doctor, Jack, and Martha outlaws and she had to watch helplessly as her family was arrested because of her connection to The Doctor. He put the TARDIS in a paradox machine, suspended The Doctor’s ability to regenerate (which aged him by 100 and made him inexplicably smaller), tried to kill Jack, and enslaved the world, particularly Martha’s family as his personal servants. For the first time, a companion’s entire family had to suffer being tortured and it was a Black family. The imprisonment made sense because it was his way to raise the stakes for Martha and hurt her because of her relationship with The Doctor. But, condemning her family to servitude seemed like an unnecessary addition to the story. Despite this, Martha was told to walk to Earth and evangelize The Doctor so the world would know his story and say his name at an appointed time. At one point, she told a person that her story and who she is wasn’t important. It was a natural reaction for a companion because they often want to take the focus off on them like The Doctor does when he saves planets. But, Martha’s story mattered, even if most of her work was never seen onscreen. She was walking the dangerous Earth on her own to help liberate everyone and she was the most important and vital person on the planet at the time. Her greatness was not a freak accident or bestowed on her like Rose as the Bad Wolf and later Donna Noble as a half Time Lord. She earned her title as the woman who walked the Earth to save The Doctor. A Black woman saved the world without becoming half Time Lord or the help of the TARDIS, yet her history would be erased because that’s how being a companion “works.” Martha was always the Doctor’s doctor – taking care of him in his time of need and sacrificing herself for his good. She didn’t get a chance to choose any of her adventures but she managed to become the MVP each time.

In the end, The Doctor thanked Martha for all she has done, acknowledging that she saved the world. But, when he wanted to continue to travel, Martha declined and said she wanted to stay with her family to help them overcome their trauma and return to her studies as a student – something Martha would have done anyway because she had her own identity as a woman before The Doctor. She let him know that he often made her feel second best but she was a first-class companion. But, Martha’s exit was much more than the result of unrequited love. Martha’s maturity made her realize how her relationship with The Doctor had a negative and almost life threatening effect on her loved ones. And, as much as she loved The Doctor, her family was a priority in her life and she cared about their well-being. It was as much a selfless move as it was an act of self-preservation. Even if Martha didn’t harbor any romantic feelings for The Doctor, she still would have felt second rate because of how he put Rose on a pedestal. However, she left the door open to see him again and gave him a phone, letting him know she would call if she were in trouble.

“I spent a lot of time with you thinking I was second best. But you know what? I am good.” -Martha Jones

This ending was a satisfying one for a woman who had endured so much after being a substitute for both Rose Tyler and Joan. She knew that no matter how much she proved herself to be an excellent companion, The Doctor would never appreciate her in a way she deserved because of his love for Rose. He would continue to take her for granted and make the assumption that she had unwavering loyalty to him. She recognized her worth and the unhealthy situation she was in and she was given the agency by the writers to walk away on her own volition. Martha looks relieved as she walks away and no longer has to carry the burden of bottling up her swirling emotions and feelings of inadequacy. But, leaving her phone with him was a great way for her to be able to contact him again after he had some time to reflect on their relationship and realize the error of his ways.  And, The Doctor later admitted to his next companion Donna Noble that Martha was brilliant, but he thought he destroyed her for life. Years after her exit, Martha is STILL the only companion who left traveling in the TARDIS 100% by her own will and not as the result of some sort of tragedy. She also completed her personal mission and became Dr. Martha Jones – UNIT shot caller.

Martha was a different woman when she teamed up with The Doctor and his latest companion Donna Noble in season four’s “The Sontaran Stratagem.”  She had received her doctorate and was leading an army of UNIT soldiers against the Sontarans. Her romantic interest in The Doctor had faded due to an engagement to a fellow doctor and extended time away from the TARDIS. The trio made a fun, engaging team with Martha and Donna’s compatible personalities. She had a chat with Donna, asking her if her family knew she was with The Doctor and warning her about the potential dark side of being his companion. Martha’s compassionate words came from a place of genuine concern for her well-being and not a place of jealousy or bitterness. The women were both a part of an exclusive club of people who have traveled with The Doctor and Martha knew what Donna could face as a companion.

“You need to be careful. Cause you know The Doctor is wonderful. He’s brilliant. But he’s like fire – stand too close and people get burned.”

However, this episode and its conclusion saw Martha mostly separated from The Doctor as she was cloned by a stoic, evil version of herself. Eventually she was able to save herself and expressed no desire to stay with The Doctor, but was swept away on an adventure with him anyway. She was separated from the group again as she tried to help the Hath – a fish/human alien while The Doctor and Donna deal with his DNA daughter Jenny. Martha’s return was a great way to follow up and see how her life was going, but her appearance in “The Doctor’s Daughter” seemed like a wasted opportunity because it could have been an opportunity to display more of her chemistry with Ten and Donna. There was also no true reconciliation with The Doctor since he never apologized to Martha for treating her like a second class companion. Her return to Doctor Who after The Doctor (and some of the audience) had more time to process what happened with Rose also made viewers wonder how her relationship with him would have been better if she had come into his life at a later time.

However, when Martha returned along with Mickey, Rose, and all of the other Tenth Doctor companions in “Journey’s End,” Martha did take on a more vital role in saving the Earth despite the episode being largely focused on the Rose/Ten reunion and Donna’s tragic exit. Martha teleported to a castle near Nuremberg and linked to Osterhagen station, where she threatened to use the Osterhagen Key to destroy the Earth, a planet which Davros needs for his plans. As she appeared in front of The Doctor and Rose in their holding cells, she made a remark about The Doctor finally finding Rose again. Her first glimpse of Rose was void of envy and she was genuinely amazed to see her standing beside The Doctor. After everything was restored, Martha gave Ten a soldier’s salute and walked off with Mickey and Jack. As she walked away, Jack asked Martha about leaving UNIT, which signals the beginning of her partnership with Torchwood. The Doctor didn’t embrace Martha nor give her a proper goodbye, but he managed to hug Sarah Jane Smith. He also had an extended scene with Rose Tyler and the metacrisis Doctor as he pleaded with her to make him better. She ends up kissing metacrisis Doctor and the real Doctor makes a quick exit while she is occupied. Rose’s ending was almost as long as Donna’s tragic send off, which gave her closure but was overkill because this was supposed to be more about Donna.

They’re both Black, so why not make them a couple?

Mickey and Martha’s last appearance on Doctor Who was a strange conclusion which saw the pair together as a married couple. They ended their story as freelance alien hunters and watched the Tenth Doctor tell them farewell one last time before he regenerated alone at the end of season 4. Although they look great together, it was strange to see them after they had no previous relationship on the series outside of briefly sharing a room and the TARDIS console together. It was like the writers were not sure how to do a final wrap on their stories, so they decided to take the two Black people and slap them together. In some ways their pairing makes sense because of their shared history with The Doctor. But without any context on how their relationship developed, it seems like a rushed happy ending for the couple.


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Comments (1)

This is perfection, It’s a beautiful analysis of characters who are often relegated to being needy and uncomplex.

In an alternative companion order. Donna would have been a far better fit as the first post-rose companion. When you have a bad break up, most of us would have a laugh with friends rather than pick up some poor unfortunate soul and go for a ride. I LOVE Donna and Ten, they contrast each other spectacularly.

However, I adore Martha, I was thrilled by Freema’s casting. (S1 Rose is fabulous btw) As a young viewer watching this, Martha engaged my interest in a way none of the others could because we were so alike, we come from the same kind of background, we both have a similar outlook (and similar luck with men).

However, immediately after hearing the news of her casting, I knew they would mistreat her character in the way they did. Martha is smart, strong, fierce, conscientious. and loyal to a fault. Not to mention GORGEOUS. In my reordering of the companions, The Doctor would have been far more appreciative of her excellent qualities and less dismissive of her in general if he had been allowed to get over his heartache with the humour and humanity of Donna

It was utterly unfair to her and Mickey, after the way they were treated by their respective love interests. I will never forgive RTD for how he depleted a pair of rather well-rounded characters.

I agree with you completely on the Mickey/Martha paring. While new and improved (developed) Mickey is kin Is Mickey really her type? Outside the Doctor, and their blackness, what would they have in common? It kind of reeks of scraps. After making them suffer from the embarrassment of unrequited love. The decision to put them in a relationship together was thoughtless and utterly unnecessary. I will never forgive RTD for how he depleted a pair of rather well-rounded characters.

Nonetheless, the writers do deserve credit for writing clever, likeable characters which did eventually grow and mature outside of being simple companions. They were not intensely stereotyped as some black characters are written in many shows. The Beeb could have done a better job by hiring a few black writers to straighten out any kinks and ridiculous notions that they need not have made the final draft. ( like the constant use of the companions race as plot device)

But that’s another story.

Thank you so much for this article.

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